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Frauke Petry, head of the right-wing Alternative for Germany, said she will not lead its election campaign, effectively admitting defeat in a long-running struggle for control of the party.
In a video message on her Facebook page, Ms Petry said she would “not be available as a top candidate, or as part of a top team”.
The AfD’s popularity peaked last year in the aftermath of Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to a million refugees. But its opinion poll ratings have slumped as the refugee crisis has eased.
It has also been overshadowed by the rise of Martin Schulz, the new leader of the Social Democrats, who is now seen as a real alternative to Ms Merkel. Pollsters Infratest dimap puts the AfD at 11 per cent, down from 16 per cent last September.
In the run-up to the AfD’s conference in Cologne this weekend, Ms Petry had urged delegates to choose between a strategy of “Realpolitik” – in which the AfD gradually changed into a mainstream, middle-class party able to form coalitions with other conservatives – and the path of “fundamental opposition” advocated by the party’s vocal right-wing.
That led to fierce criticism from fellow AfD members that she was trying to split the party.
Those rivals were privately claiming victory on Wednesday. But Ms Petry’s decision to step back will likely further impact its poll ratings: the charismatic mother-of-four is popular with the party’s grass roots and was for many the acceptable, bourgeois face of the AfD.
uld be found to facilitate their transfer.